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Saving the best

Franchises get creative to make the earth last


Franchise organizations are saving energy and the environment as the green message resounds throughout the global business world. The idea of sustainability quickly has eclipsed the buzz-word stage to become standard operating procedure at a growing number of companies. But unless efforts at the franchisor level filter down to all franchisees, the green message can become muddled and a system's efforts can falter.


What do vegetable oil used as fuel; front-desk uniforms made from recycled plastic; smaller retail franchise footprints and an emphasis on sustainable building material have in common?

They're all green.

Wyndham Hotel Group has 7,000 locations, with a green champion at each site to ensure sustainability efforts are ongoing, says Faith Taylor, vice president of worldwide sustainability and innovation for the Parsippany, New Jersey-based company.

"We are focusing not only on the environment, but on the social piece, too," says Taylor. "We no longer can be isolated, so we have to think globally. Like (Americans with Disabilities Act) regulations, sustainability is becoming part of our everyday business."

The company has taken on numerous initiatives since forming a "green council" a year after the company's spinoff from Cendant in 2006, but one of the more interesting programs is the Wyndham brand front-desk uniforms made from recycled plastic bottles. Cintas Corp. approached Wyndham about its uniforms, and hotel executives mentioned the possibility of developing a green uniform. The partnership proved successful, and now Cintas offers "green" uniforms as part of its regular product offerings.

Taylor says each property can reduce energy consumption by 10 percent through such low-cost and no-cost items as turning the thermostat up to 72 degrees in common areas in the summer and installing compact fluorescent light bulbs. Additionally, the chain is touting low-flow water practices and making its "Earth Smart" guest linen reuse program more prominent.

Shades of green

Adopting a sustainable business model can seem a daunting task, but the key is to look long- term and tackle projects quarter by quarter, advises Michael Sater, principal at Atlanta-based Maurgood, which assists companies in the areas of sustainability, corporate responsibility and branding. Maurgood can provide gap analysis and baseline readings (called an EcoBAR audit) to help a company judge its environmental efforts, but Sater stresses that failing to reach a sustainability goal or being late to the game is OK.


The Flip Flop Shop

Glass Nickel Pizza recycles fryer grease to fuel six converted diesel vehicles.

"If your sustainability efforts are transparent and authentic, consumers will give you a little slack if you come up short," says Sater. "Many companies think if a goal isn't achieved that's a negative, but that's not true."

If they aren't already doing so, companies should look to their logistics and supply chain operations to reap immediate savings, Sater says. Wasteful driving and needless packing materials both can add up quickly.

The former is being addressed by Vehicle Tracking Solutions, which currently monitors 13,000 vehicles for 850 clients, says COO Ed Teixeira. The Deer Park, New York-based company also is a franchise organization, with seven franchises on board and a goal to add 20 more in 2009.

"The primary purpose is to enable companies to maximize use of vehicles and lower operating costs," Teixeira says. Efficient routing of fleet vehicles can reduce fuel consumption by up to 15 percent, and labor costs can be reduced by finding the most efficient routes and by monitoring how long drivers have been behind the wheel. Efficiencies can translate to more service calls or deliveries during a day, which can improve profits, Teixeira notes.

Deliveries are a cornerstone of any pizza franchise, so savings in this area can add up quickly. Glass Nickel Pizza Co., with one corporate and six franchised locations, requires franchisees to operate at least one alternative-fuel vehicle by its third year of operation, says Michael Nicholson, director of franchise operations for the Madison, Wisconsin-based chain.

Alternative fuel for the corporate office and store comes from used fryer grease, which is drained twice a week into a 55-gallon drum, filtered and used to power six converted diesel vehicles. The company pays 35 cents a gallon into the highway improvement fund, and Nicholson says he fills his "grease car" up with diesel (required at startup) once a quarter.

"We were paying to pump and throw away a product that would wind up in a landfill," says Nicholson. "So we thought, 'Why not run our vehicles off of it?'" Nicholson estimates the corporate headquarters/store saves $15,000 a year on fuel costs.

In addition to the savings, the chain has received tons of free publicity and encouraging e-mails about its grease fleet, he says.

Relatively new franchise organizations have no existing agreements, and consequently may have an easier time rolling out sustainability efforts across the system.


Glass Nickel Pizza

The Flip Flop Shop features natural cork floors, a smaller footprint, low-energy lighting and eco-friendly millwork and adhesives.

Flip Flop Shops, which began to sell franchises last January (2008), made sustainability a core value of the company and its locations. "As a new retailer, we want to do a good job of being brand ambassadors for manufacturers," says Darin Kraetsch, CEO of the Kennesaw, Georgia-based retailer. Many of the brands Flip Flop Shops carry feature recycled materials, and the concept of sustainable products and a sustainable retail environment go together like big waves and cool surfboards.

Store environments feature natural cork floors derived from remnants from a factory that produces cork wine bottle stoppers. Water-based paints, low-energy lighting, eco-friendly adhesives and millwork made from particle board are other ways the company helps the environment.

Kraetsch estimates that buildout costs up to $5,000 more over using traditional materials, but he says the cost is negligible in terms of helping the environment and building buzz among potential franchisees.

"We want to attract people like us, who are proud and passionate about the concept," Kraetsch says. "We want to be eco-friendly at every step - no pun intended."

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